“I don’t think anybody should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.” —Samuel Goldwyn
As I close out this humble memoir, I’m drawn by the need to write the ending. It seems so critical to me to close the loop so to make my dubious legend whole. So you ask, how do you write the end of the story of your life when, according to low-whispered rumors, you still walk the earth? The best I can come up with is that you make an agreement with yourself that there is no more to write. And then, you know….end your life.
Travels With Lefty
I woke slowly in the van, warm and rested after a parade of inscrutable dreams. I had made the exactly 1000 miles to Death Valley from home in 2 days. The October sun was rising over the Armargosa Range as I brewed coffee in the back of the rig. Just like John Steinbeck would as he roamed the country with his dog Charley sixty years ago. I shared my morning brew break not with a dog but with a faithful stuffed octopus named Lefty. Lefty came from Catalina Island and is a ‘rescue octopus’. I saved him from a sale rack at the end of the tourist season in 2017. A great traveling companion, he protects me from intruders and evil spirits, doesn’t shed, never needs to be taken outside in the middle of the night, and is flealess, barkless, and pensive. Always watching silently with his big plastic eyes as the miles go by.
After two propane pour-over lattes, I stepped outside as the sun began to warm the desert. Surrounded by the vast illogical beauty of Death Valley, I began to ponder the prominence of this most interesting of years. Today I would co-opt the world’s confusion, fear, insecurity, rage and insanity with denial and transcendence. I will finish myself as I please. Not literally of course, but in writing. Because who better than oneself to assure their story ends happily?!
Tearing Down the House
I therefore testify that I am the most peaceful and content, awakened and saved person I know of. I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone. Never have I wanted to. Never will. That said, disclosure requires me to fuss about aging and other derived and self-inflicted maladies. Sharing health status is what we elders do after all. (A friend referred such conversations as “the organ recital.”)
Running down the ‘preflight checklist’, in no particular order of importance, we have arthritis, dermatologic ‘oddities’, neuritis, neuropathy, fatigue, thinning hair, and presently a stuffy nose from the dry heat. My hands are shakin’ and my knees are weak. I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet. I have ‘aged out’ of regular physical exercise and eating properly. In fifty years I have consumed enough beer to, as the old saying goes, float a battleship. I’ve no tattoos or piercings, but sport (so far) one artificial knee.
It gets better: I’m due for a new right hip next month. I took a photo of my pelvis x-ray in the surgeon’s office while he shook his head and stared at me over his thick glasses. He told me the left hip is also trashed, but that since the right joint was only barely identifiable as such, we better swap it out first. The ball on the top of the femur looked like it belonged to a blind golfer. It was covered with those golf ball pimples as well as scabs and scars at being repeatedly mis-struck by a flailing sand wedge.
A Stitch in Time
I have no shame in using tired metaphors, so here we go: My wife Cheryl has become a most expert quilt-maker. Her eye for color, shapes and style, along with patience, precision, and ability have filled our house with rectangles of fabric masterpieces worth framing. Just a side note: We joked the other day about the few quilts she has gifted to others. It happens that all those people have now passed away. You would be wise to note the size and shape of any shipment you get from our address; maybe lightly squeeze the packaging…
Pieces are cut out one at a time and connected in a prescribed or random sequence as the tapestry grows. Then comes the finish work of batting, backing, border, quilting and binding. Bringing it all together, once everything is in its place, the quilt is washed and hung to dry awaiting final appraisal. Lovingly accepting the errors and missed steps, we glory in how elegant it looks now complete and inseparable. Exponentially grander than its many different parts, we see the beauty in the oneness—a product of both our industry and creativity.
At some point we must accept ourselves as we have been assembled by ourselves. Because then can we settle into a rich life of ‘knowing peace.’ Too together to fear others, too lazy to do anything but live love and help those who are still fumbling over their scattered little pieces.
Rising Above It All
The second leg of my lone journey took me to Joshua Tree National Park. I arrived at sundown and cruised the 45 miles border to border through the sharp high desert scenery smiling and singing out loud. I found a campsite at Cottonwood Springs and tucked away. The next afternoon I rattled to my feet, grabbed my trekking poles and ascended a small ridge at days end. I carried my well-seasoned body up the trail as the sun lowered in autumn orange, brightening the cactus, yucca trees, and creosote bushes.
Grateful for my still sturdy heart and lungs, I reached the top of a ridge to watch day’s end. I whooped a salute, and headed back down on painful rickety hinges with make-believe balance. My gait was just like a half-inflated football rolling down a dry water slide. I chunckered back to camp in the dusk for a half Vicodin, two gabapentin, and several rapidly consumed Budweisers as Lefty looked down from his perch with reproachful silence.
Life Is Short. And Then We Try
It is said this world is but a fearful fiction, and we can get a glimpse of the loving dream beyond this life while we are still here by awakening just enough to the truth of who we truly are in spirit. This is a time we can step back, look at all the fragments and that see real truth lies in the perceptions, intentions and values that stitched everything into one.
My best teaching ever was the most simple of parables. It was so clearly obvious, I was incredulous it hadn’t been put before me sooner. Steven Covey, in his hugely popular book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” led into his advice on living a full and purposeful life by advising the reader as follows: Close your eyes and imagine yourself on a quiet hillside where you are witness to your own burial….and to listen closely to what those at your graveside are saying about the deceased.
Y’all can take it from there.
And, as for a written obituary: “John died. Boat for sale.”